Cradle King

Aug 21 2016 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Hugely involving

Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30) Fri 12 – Sun 28 Aug 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

An outstanding display of acting is given by Robin Thomson, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first professional appearance by reviving his 2003 performance as James VI in Donald Smith’s Cradle King in the John Knox House.

That this occurs 400 years after the death of Shakespeare is particularly apposite, as his works provide the backbone for a great deal of the subtle, clever and extremely well structured account of the life of the King of Scots who later became James I of England. In particular, the similarities between his family history and the events of both Hamlet and Macbeth are ingeniously explored.

Cradle King publicity

Cradle King publicity

This probably is down to simple coincidence – after all, the tales of plotting, murder and revenge could apply equally well to any number of previous members of the House of Stewart, or most other European monarchs. Nevertheless, the parallels are intriguing and beautifully teased out.

Thomson’s performance is something of a tour de force. In an atmospherically lit upstairs room (which becomes steadily dimmer as the evening wears on), and with only a skull as a co-star, he produces a characterisation rich in humour and pathos.

The king’s ambivalence about Scotland and the treatment of his mother, his love of the arts, his resentment of his tutor the Latin scholar George Buchanan, his bisexuality, his abiding interest in witchcraft – it is all here, and more besides, in a rounded, sympathetic and beautifully acted portrayal.

the dry boak

Some knowledge of the background may enhance the audience’s appreciation, but as long as you know who Shakespeare and James’s mother Mary are, you will certainly understand it.

As a bonus, a small exhibition of sets from Scottish theatre productions ranging over hundreds of years is scattered throughout the house and available to view afterwards. The presence of such reminders of the playhouse in the residence associated with him might have given Knox the dry boak but could well have tickled James. A greater degree of enjoyment awaits anyone attending this impressive production.

Running time: 1 hour (no interval)
Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30), 43-45 High Street, EH1 1SR
Friday 12 – Sunday 28 August 2016
Daily (not Mon 15, 22) at 7.30 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website:
Storytelling Centre website:


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